' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Corruption in International Adoption? Highly Over-rated.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Corruption in International Adoption? Highly Over-rated.

Rev. Mark H. Diebel of East Greenbush, NY, attended the 2009 Adoption Policy Conference on International Adoption, The United States, and the Reality of the Hague System, presented by the Center for Adoption Policy, The Child Advocacy Program of Harvard Law School, and The Justice Action Center at New York Law School on March 6 at the New York Law School. We met Mark a year ago when we were in Albany to lobby for open records; he’s a cool guy and an Episcopalian minister. An adoptee, he found his mother in Hawaii, and connected with a large family.

We asked him to share his impressions and thoughts about the conference. The keynote speaker was Elizabeth Bartholet, Harvard adopter of two from Peru and adoption-corruption enabler and author of Family Bonds, about the glories and rewards of international adoption. She told me when we appeared on PBS together the day Anna Schmidt was returned to her rightful parents from the DeBoers that her children were meant for her. In the introduction to Family Bonds, she reveals her underlying thesis that would lead to a Brave New World of adoption:

“It would be liberating for women and for their children if we were to enable birth parents to think more positively about giving their children to those who cannot bear children but who want to provide the nurturing piece of parenting.”

Why doesn’t she just come out and write: Hey, we’re rich, we want kids, let us have yours! She is a completely heartless on what it is like to relinquish your own flesh and blood.

So…without further ado, here are Mark’s impressions of the Conference:

What is the impact to International Adoptions of America's signing on to the Hague Convention?

William Bistransky, Chief of the Adoption Unity, Office of Children's Issues, Department of State; Anna Mary Coburn (DOS) attorney-advisor, Miki Stebbing (DOS); Richard Klarberg (Council on Accrediation); USCIS -- immigration services people explained details, answered questions from the audience, many of whom seemed to be adoption agencies and adopting moms, law students...representatives from Ethica, PEAR, NY Statewide Adoption Reform and one embassy representative from Kyrgyzstan.

Who was not on the panel? Not one international adoptee.

Things overheard during the meeting: an adoptive mom's thirty-something daughter is getting married. "Things do settle down," she said to the gathered adoptive parents. I thought, "Do adoptees have problems?"

Someone on a panel asked quite seriously, "Is poverty a reason to separate a child from their family?" Silence. The subject changed. I had the feeling that children from poor countries and their families had better be watching for well-meaning rescuers. This is another potential pool of ungrateful adoptees.

One howler from Dr. Bartholet was the statement that "heritage is over-rated." This was said in respect of the millions of children who are left to languish in appalling conditions because some people think that it would be better for them to remain in those conditions "with their heritage" than be "set-free" for international adoption. A response came from Karen Moline (member of PEAR) who called her out. "This sounds racist," says Moline, especially as she herself considered her adopted child who was from Vietnam.

Dr. B replied that she has been involved in civil rights in America all her life, and figures that one just has to take comments like this for standing up and saying challenging things...second, that her two adopted "children" were from Peru and wants them to think well of their heritage. She is concerned that the heritage argument is used to manipulate international adoption and reduce its attractiveness (my word.) (I think her "children" are in their twenties.) —True, they must be by now because the are pasts toddler stage when her book was published in 1993--FMF.

Corruption is important. A woman in the audiences talks about corruption in a Guatemalan adoption that she is directly involved with. Another woman trying to adopt from Guatemala tells the story that "her child" came with what turned out to be falsified DNA records. Apparently, doctors were colluding to falsify these records. The adoption faltered, the child remains in Guatemala. She wondered what could still be done to get the child to America. Someone I don't know, who runs an adoption agency that is involved with Guatemalan adoption, stood up shortly afterwards and complained that the Hague shut-down adoptions from Guatemala. Was it the Hague (Convention) that shut it down? Or was it the corruption? Her point was the corruption is minor, exceptional; and that adoptions from Guatemala should continue. (See Firstmother’s previous posts on the corruption in international adoption.)

I asked, can the Hague Convention provide a foundation for opening a new discussion in America for opening records? The reply came from Dr. B, who said how encouraged she is to see that records are getting opened across the country. Apart from that, not one word from the panel, but there were a few words of support from the audience. Someone said to me after, "what world is she from?"

The conference had good parts. There was food and refreshment; registration was free. There was opportunity to ask questions. The panels were informed about certain things, especially if you wanted to adopt a child internationally. A professor of social work from Virginia Commonwealth University complained that the conference design lacked any real engagement with adoption fraud, and no social workers who conduct home studies. Who designed this? How can one get international adoptees involved with policy discussions like this?

My final story is a personal one. After the conference I spoke to Dr. Bartholet. My adoptive uncle taught at Harvard Law and I wondered if she knew him. Yes, for many years. And she explained something I didn't know about how he got there. Then, she said, "I'm sorry about his death." I hadn't heard. When I told my wife that I had the "adoptee experience", she replied, "my family is screwed-up too. It's not just adoptee's." I said, "but I bet no one is looking to tell me."

How did I feel about the conference?

How did I feel? Hey I'm an adoptee. I'm still figuring it out. Am still getting over the fact there were no adoptees speaking at all. I thought...I should stand up and say thank you for all your hard work. But I am not grateful.

The passion exhibited on the panelist's part was all pro-adoption, about getting children to America. Very little self-criticism. No deconstruction going on, which was all strange since that is very "in-school" these days. Old school human rights talk...fifty years old. I did say to the group..."You all sound like my parents fifty years ago." I am too indirect perhaps?

[Self: Keep a low profile. Don't draw fire more than need be to survive.]

Was it a up or down for the overall conference?

Definite down in that it did fail to come to grips with the larger picture. Furthermore no discussion of things like family formation; gay/lesbian adoption; surrogacy.

For those interested, the conference was videotaped, and will posted on the NY Law School web site sometime in the next few months.


New Post on adoptamania in the media coming Tuesday evening. --lorraine


  1. My perspective - as a mother who lost her child to adoption who attended this conference as well, will be forthcoming on the Origins-USA.org blog. Please watch for it!

  2. It sounds pretty dreadful. Bartholet is a witch, and not a good one! There are so many groups now for adult International adoptees, surely they could have come up with a few as presenters. Or is that because the Product never speaks, just gets used?

  3. AdoptAuthor…looking forward to your blog on this!

    In the 1980s, after I “caused trouble” with either a paid article in our local newspaper against surrogacy or a Letter to the Editor against sperm donation, several people wrote in taking a stand against my position. One woman wrote in that she and her husband agreed to invest LOTS of money so she could have 11 operations to become pregnant with her husband’s sperm. When the 11th try failed, they realized that God had better plans for them: they would adopt. This woman said that it was far better to adopt a poor woman’s child than to blow their money trying to have “one of our own.”

    I called her on the phone. We had a discussion. She began to see how the adoptee feels, but when she found out that I had two small children, and my husband was out of work, she said, “See! There you go! I could adopt your kids, you can go to work and we’ll both be happy!” No, dear, I’d rather keep my kids, thank you.

    Why didn’t we listen to Ron Paul long ago? I could see it happening in 1988. When the steel mills closed and I had two kids to feed and Reaganomics ruined Buffalo. Trico shut down here, too. All our jobs were leaving, but they didn’t care.

    …No adoptees speaking at this panel….Lorraine, I would urge you and our readers to link up with United Adoptees International. http://uai-news.blogspot.com/. Maybe we could make a dent in the international effort for openness. Ooops, Mairiaine, I just read your comment. Product just gets used, is compliant, otherwise, we get slammed. My natural family and adoptive family lived just five miles apart in Buffalo --- and I’ve been slammed for: having a reunion, and, daring to write about adoption. Shame they don’t want us to speak.

  4. Deconstructing Bartholet

    The piece is available for download via this link. A snippet of the article is below:

    "Like Bartholet, we are international adoptive parents, and like Bartholet, we place ourselves in the camp of those generally supportive of international adoption. Where we part company with her is in our characterization of the bigger picture. Bartholet's position seems appealing because it relegates to the periphery of the analysis disturbing and problematic questions that should be at its core, specifically troubling practices like child-buying, coercion of vulnerable birth parents, weak regulatory structures, and profiteering. Our analysis breaks little new theoretical ground, and we do not propose programmatic solutions. Rather we identify and explore complexities that Bartholet for the most part ignores, but which are central to the viability and integrity of any international adoption process."
    United Adoptees International




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